Sociological art

Sociological art

Sociological Art is an artistic movement and approach to aesthetics created by Fred Forest, Hervé Fischer and Jean-Paul Thénot in 1974.

From 1967 to 1974

As of 1967 Fred Forest began a series of actions that would foreground the Sociological Art movement. A decade prior to the formal constitution of the “Sociological Art Collective” he held a number of public events in the context of the May 1968 protests in France at the Place d’Aligre in Paris, at debates at the Sorbonne and at the Théâtre de l’Odéon. At the time, he was also often active around the activist-politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit and professor Jacques Monod of Jussieu University.

With these actions, he dismissed the traditional artistic media of drawing, painting and sculpture, favouring the use of communication technologies in impoverished neighbourhoods (1967), video (1967) as well as printed and audiovisual press mechanisms. Notably, in 1972 at the occasion of the Salon titled “Comparison” at the “Grand Palais” in Paris, he openly argued with its official cultural institutions in denouncing their alleged heinous exploitation of market economics and political maneuvering. In June 1973 he organized a number of experiments in video exchange amidst communities of retirees in the south of France, an action of which philosopher Vilem Flusser and sociologist Philippe Buteaud were tributaries.

In October 1973 at the occasion of the XII Bienal de São Paulo, he effectuated a series of political provocations calling into question the established military dictatorship. In effect, he invited the Biennale’s artists to overstep the official framework of the event to extend their expression into the very streets of Brazil. As a result of the concrete manifestation of this project, a procession in which artistic collaborators cum demonstrators took to the main streets of São Paulo bearing white placards, he was arrested and taken to the Political Police Headquarters, a retaliation that generated international media attention effectively achieving the artist’s intended artistic-political goal. Forest formalized this now clear trajectory upon returning from this experience in May 1974, Forest organized an exhibition bearing the epiteth “sociological art” at the Galerie German in Paris.

From 1974 to 1980

At the occasion of this exhibition, Forest met Michel Journiac and together they gathered a number of artists together to begin a movement engaged with critical and sociological realities. The meetings brough together artists such as Gina Pane, Bertand Lavier, Thierry Agullo, Joan Rabsacal, Jocelyne Hervé, Hervé Fischer, Jean-Paul Thenot as well as art critics François Pluchart and Bernard Teyssedre.

On the 10th of October 1974, the Sociological Art Collective was officially declared with the publication in newspaper Le Monde of its first manifesto, signed by Hervé Fischer, Fred Forest and Jean-Paul Thénot. From this date onwards, these artists would alternate between practices claiming this lineage and their own personal practices. Concretely speaking, the collective published a number of texts, organized and effectuated a series of projects, and participated in colloquia and exhibitions.

Key Moments

* 10th of October 1974 – Official proclamation of the Sociological Art Collective with Manifesto #1 published in newspaper Le Monde

* January 1975 – « Art and its socio-economic structures » exhibition organized at the Galerie German, Paris, with works from : Art et Language, Willy Bongard, Hervé Fischer, Fred Forest, Hans Haacke, John Latharn, Les Lévine, Lea Lublin, Jacques Pineau, Adrian Piper, Klaus Staeck, Bernard Teyssèdre and Jean-Paul Thenot

* May 1975 – Sociological Art Manifesto #2

* July 1975 – Exhibition at the Centre for Art and Communication (C.A.Y.C.) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

* August 1975 – Exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

* March 1976 – Sociological Art Manifesto #3

* July 1976 – Venice Biennale commissioner Pierre Restany calls upon key members of the Sociological Art Collective for the French Pavilion.

* February 1977 – Sociological Art Manifesto #4


Sociological Art has two goals: firstly, to question existing artistic practice and secondly to develop a critical analysis of society through an sociologically interventionist practice.

Sociological Art is a praxis that criticizes all and any forms of alienation by using art as its platform and technology and critical methodology as its levers. [cite web
last = Forest
first = Fred
authorlink = Fred Forest
coauthors = Hervé Fischer, Jean-Paul Thénot
title = Sociological Art Manifesto #1
accessdate = 2007-11-04
"The collective of sociological art fundamentally relies upon the theory and methods of social studies. He also wants, by his practice, to create a field of investigation and experience for the sociological theory."
] With the development of post-1945 expansionism and globalisation, artistic concepts had to adapt. Sociological Art holds that the recasting of the function, methods, tools, materials and aims of artists was inevitable at a period of such social upheaval.

It proposed to consider art in terms of interaction, animation and the creation of structures of exchange, provocation and disruption of conventional social behaviours with a view to denouncing all and any forms of conditioning. In a classic move of Détournement often associated with the Situationists, Sociological Art aimed to draw attention to the channels of power and communication it was aiming to undermine. [cite web
last = Forest
first = Fred
authorlink = Fred Forest
coauthors = Hervé Fischer, Jean-Paul Thénot
title = Sociological Art Manifesto #2
accessdate = 2007-11-04
"Sociological art doesn't aim to manage the real, present or to come, but to exercise in relation to the social reality and to ourselves, a function of questioning and disruption."

It called upon derision, simulacrum and humorous cum critical ellipses in order to explode or alter a certain reality structured by the social codes of the time. Sociological Art attempted to establish the modalities required for participative and discursive communication between artists and the public. This stance was in strict opposition with traditional artistic and cultural dogmas in terms of media, intention, method, aim, linguistic register, location and audience. [cite web
last = Forest
first = Fred
authorlink = Fred Forest
coauthors = Hervé Fischer, Jean-Paul Thénot
title = Sociological Art Manifesto #3
accessdate = 2007-11-04
"Realism and diversion are its two principles. It practises specifically against the institutions in place of the dominant system, that it wants to put in question.".

As summarized by Fred Forest: "The practical aim of Sociological Art is to provide the necessary conditions of existence for various devices that frame a given efficient and effective questioning or investigation, thereby establishing the optimal conditions for a situation of intersubjectivity." [cite web
last = Forest
first = Fred
authorlink = Fred Forest
coauthors =
title = Textes Critiques
accessdate = 2007-11-04
"L'art sociologique a pour objet pratique de réunir les conditions necessaires à la mise en oeuvre de " dispositifs" de nature diverses, à partir desquels une fonction de questionnement et d'interrogation pourra être développée efficacement en vue d'établir les conditions optimum d'une situation intersubjective.".

Steeped in the theories of Existentialism and Situationism and the political realities of the time, Sociological Art was a politically engaged response to an art world that was perceived as being out of touch both with the technologies and the society of its time.


The Sociological Art movement per se dissipated over the years, though its founders retained its tenets in their own artistic practice. It defines the work of Fred Forest and was further adapted and theorized in his subsequent theory of Communication aesthetics. Though relatively unknown today, it is thoroughly emblematic of the historical upheavals after the second world war in France and Europe generally. It is also clear that Sociological Art foresaw the need for communicational art long before Nicolas Bourriaud’s 1992 theory of Relational Aesthetics. [cite book
last = Forest
first = Fred
coauthors =
title = Art Sociologique Vidéo
publisher = Union Générale Édition, 10/18
date = 1977
pages =
month =
isbn =
"L'art se conçoit maintenant comme une ensemble de démarches relationnelles instaurant des rapports dialogiques"(Art is now conceived of as a groupe of relational procedures instigating rapports of dialogue).


* May 1967, [ Portrait de famille] ( L'Hay-les-roses, Banlieue parisienne),
* June 1973 [ Video-troisieme âge] ,
* Octobre 1973 [ Le blanc envahit la ville] ,
* November 1973 [ Sociological promenade Brooklyn] ,
* Nov 1989 [ Regime, change ballad]
* May 1991 [ The electronic Bible and the persian gulf war] ,
* October 1992 [ Fred Forest Président] ,
* May 1993 [ The watchtowers of peace,]


* Theorie de l'art sociologique, Herve Fischer, Caterman, Paris 1977
* L'art sociologique, Fred Forest, 10/18, UGE PARIS 1977
* Art sociologique, Méthode pour une sociologie esthétique (Sociological Art, Method for an aesthetic sociology), Blaise Galland, Georg Éditeur à Carouge, Switzerland, 1987.
* [ Commentary by Pierre Restany]
* [ Commentary by Vilem Flusser]
* [ Commentary by Harald Szeemann]
* [ Commentary by Derrick de Kerckhove]
* [ Commentary by Frank Popper]


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